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Britt pop
Spoon find less is more on Gimme Fiction
BY MIKAEL WOOD
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Spoon's official Web site

Rhythm guitarists, listen up: Britt Daniel, frontman of the Austin-based indie-rock band Spoon, is not a supporter. "I think itís just kind of overused," he says of "distorted rhythm guitar," the lingua franca of rock music since punk first announced its three-chord liberation from technique. "I love the Ramones, but not every band can do that and have it be special. And it just seems like so much of alternative rock is, ĎOkay, weíre gonna throw in a distorted rhythm guitar and just play the chords.í Thatís so boring."

Danielís solution ó which came to him between Spoonís first album, 1996ís Telephono, and their second, 1998ís A Series of Sneaks (both Matador) ó was to scale back by relying less upon the insistent chug of rhythm guitar and instead focusing on whatever made a song individual. That element could be anything: a lead-guitar line, a keyboard part, a drum beat. The handful of albums Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, Spoonís only other permanent member, have made since Sneaks have seen this approach bear delicious fruit. Gimme Fiction (Merge), their latest, is full of wiry, stripped-down little gems about . . . well, weíll get to that in a minute.

"I didnít know what space meant exactly when we first started recording," says Daniel, who brings Spoon to the Paradise this Tuesday. "I guess if someone played me a song and said, ĎThatís space,í I wouldíve gotten it. But I wasnít thinking about that when I was writing. Now Iím not sitting there thinking, ĎOkay, what I wanna do is be a minimal band.í But so often, some of my favorite songs ó especially favorite singles ó are ones that are very minimal. Like ĎKissí by Prince, or ĎWe Will Rock You.í Thereís something special about making a song work with just a few elements."

Thatís all they need on Gimme Fiction. Opener "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" is built from the ground up, layering Danielís parched croon over a beat and a bass line and an ominous piano figure; when Daniel rips a tinfoil guitar solo, you can practically hear the fuzz in his amp. "I Turn My Camera On" is dry disco rock with metronomic guitar stabs that sound like a tiny string section. "My Mathematical Mind" revolves around a rolling piano line that never seems to resolve.

"Iíll go through a lot of different ideas," Daniel says of the complicated and time-consuming process of recording "different instruments and parts. Iím not saying I record all of them, but I try a bunch, and then once you find something that seems to make it stand out, I emphasize that rather than adding a million things thatíll make everything a wash. I demo a lot; we do a lot of prep work before we start recording."

One result of the bandís spare sound is the attention paid to Danielís lyrics, which veer between straight-shooting assessments of the culture the songwriter sees swirling around him to more fanciful character studies of such apocryphal folks as "Monsieur Valentine" and "Sister Jack" and "Jonathan Fisk." Daniel considers himself a fan of the literary rock tradition, but he hesitates to unpack his songs. "With Bob Dylan, everybodyís always trying to figure out what all of his language means or his poetry refers to. Most interviews Iíve seen with him where people ask him, ĎWhat does this mean?í, heíll just say, ĎItís all there. Itís what you take from it.í I think by that token Iím cool with whatever interpretation anyone has, but I donít want to ruin it for anyone by saying, ĎItís absolutely, positively just about this.í "

As a listener, he admits, thereís the occasional exception. "Thereís this song ĎKidí by the Pretenders, and Iíve heard it a million times. I always loved the song, not really knowing what it was about. Then someone told me that they had read Chrissie Hynde say that itís about this mother whoís a prostitute talking to her son or daughter. And when I listened to the song and the lyrics in that light, I got something from it that Iíd never heard before. It made the song much more bittersweet, and it took it away from a romantic boy-and-girl level and to a new place. That was a rare example of getting the background and that making it mean more." He laughs. "Usually, I donít need that."

Spoon headline this Tuesday, June 7, at the Paradise Rock Club, 967 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston; call (617) 228-6000.


Issue Date: June 3 - 9, 2005
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